The world’s crookedest street, Lombard Street (the portion between Hyde and Leavenworth), has been a San Fransisco landmark for decades, drawing thousands of tourists every weekend, but it didn't used to be this way at all... hell, it didn't even used to be crooked.
It all started back in the early 1900s, back when all of Lombard Street was straight, not crooked. The block between Hyde and Leavenworth had a steep 27% grade, which was fine until the Roaring 20s made the automobile more commonplace. Unfortunately, tackling a 27% grade in an early car was not a feasible option.
With their block not drivable, Lombard Street residents saw their property values were lower than other areas of the neighborhood. Lombard St. land owner Carl Henry proposed the idea of a crooked street to reduce the grade to a manageable level. (Probably an idea borrowed from a civil engineer named William Barclay Parsons. Read more about that here).
City engineer Clyde Healy then designed the street and it was constructed in 1922 with 8 turns and 250 steps on each side. The 8 switchbacks reduced the grade from 27% to %16 and created the unique road you know today, but it still wouldn’t become famous until a few years later…
Peter Bercut, a resident on the block, was trying to fight erosion on the street by planting hydrangeas along the road, but a published photo of the hydrangeas in bloom in the 50s and a postcard of the unique street in 1961 turned this portion of Lombard Street into not only the world’s crookedest street, but also one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Fransisco.
The popularity of the road has come at a cost... Traffic congestion on the world’s crookedest street has been a concern for decades… As cars got bigger and more common, folks realized the road should be one-way, and in 1939 they did just that. Then, as the number of tourists on the road increased dramatically over the years, 3 petitions were presented to permanently close the street to non-residents. Each petition to the MTA board was denied, but they did ban tour buses completely in 1980.
Today, the debate rages about how to handle traffic on the road, but if local residents and city planners have their way, your days of driving the famous street on your summer weekend getaways will be a thing of the past. Just last summer the Municipal Transportation Agency closed the “crooked” section between Hyde and Leavenworth to all vehicles except residents within that area and taxi cabs. No word yet on 2015 summer closures, but we can assume they’ll experiment with weekend closures this year, too.
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Source: SF City Guides